(Reuters) - Claressa Shields has scaled the Olympic peak, ruled over women's boxing but is looking for new mountains to climb by conquering the world of mixed martial arts, becoming the greatest women's athlete of all-time and striking a blow for equality.
Boxing is no stranger to grandiose proclamations but Shield's resume, that includes two Olympic gold medals and a perfect 10-0 record as professional, indicates she is well capable of backing up any boasts.
The young girl from the streets of Flint, Michigan with the Rocky-like back story, has won almost everything in the ring except the respect of promoters, who she believes have passed her over for lucrative pay-per-view cards because of her gender.
By signing on with the Professional Fighters League (PFL), Shields is aiming to achieve the respect she deserves and an opportunity to fight for the same $1 million purse as the men.
"Another mountain," Shields told Reuters after her deal with PFL was announced. "I feel like it's a great opportunity and not have to deal with the sexism in boxing and have the same opportunity as a man.
"To be a champion in PFL, be a champion in boxing at the same time that's my goal."
The middleweight gold medallist at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, Shields turned professional after the Rio Games replacing Laila Ali, Jaqui Frazier, and Freeda Foreman, the daughters of former-heavyweight greats, as the biggest name in women's boxing.
But while the charismatic Shields was establishing herself as queen of the ring, Ronda Rousey, Cris Cyborg and Amanda Nunes were riding the MMA wave to fame and fortune.
In 2017, Rousey ranked fourth on Forbes annual list of highest paid female athletes on $11 million. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that Shields was paid $300,000 for her January fight this year against Ivana Habazin to win the WBC and WBO junior middleweight championships.
In doing so she became the fastest fighter – male or female – to win world championships in three weight divisions.
'ONE IN A CENTURY'
Now, Shields wants to go one better and become a crossover star of two sports holding champion belts both in the ring and cage at the same time.
"I feel I am a one in a century kind of person, one in a century kind of athlete," said Shields.
"Right now I am at the peak of my career, right now it is the greatest year in my life. I am 25-years-old, my body is in great shape, I can learn anything so I'm just ready to put my body and mind to the task and do great things in the MMA."
Shields may be fearless, but not foolish.
She has yet to settle on a trainer or a training base but will approach MMA with the same meticulous approach she had in boxing.
Although the three year deal with PFL she will participate in a series of "special attraction" fights in 2021 and look to join the league in 2022.
PFL presents MMA in a sport-season format where individuals compete in a regular season, playoffs, and championship for a million-dollar prize.
"I am a realist, I am not ever going to lie to myself ever," said Shields. "I feel like with the PFL, I have to start at the beginning like I did in boxing.
"I'm just learning stuff and going to take it one fight at time and just go from there."
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Christian Radnedge)
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